Thesis written by: Mohamed A. Mohamed | 01 June 2009 Nominated as TFG Prime Minister on October 14, 2010. Contact: Office of the Prime Minister TFG Somalia Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
U.S. STRATEGIC INTEREST IN SOMALIA:
From Cold War Era to War on Terror
Mohamed A. Mohamed
01 June 2009
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the State University at Buffalo in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree
Master of Arts
Department of American Studies
“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Introduction
- Dynamics of Clanship in Somali Society
- European Colonial Rule
Chapter 2 U.S. Strategic Interest in Somalia during the Cold War Era
- U.S. and Soviet Union in Somalia
- The Rise of Warlord Phenomena in Somalia
- U.S. Support for Somali Warlords
Chapter 3 Global War on Terror – Post 911
- The Rise of Islamic Movement in Horn of Africa
- The Role of Ethiopia in Somalia
- Conflicts within Somali Government
Chapter 4 Failed U.S. Policy in Somalia
This thesis examines United States’ policy toward Somalia from the era of the Cold War to that of the more recent and ongoing War on Terror. It asserts that U.S.’s change of policy from Cold War alliance with Somalia to the use of Somalia as a battleground in the War on Terror has resulted in a disorganized and disjointed policy framework. In 1991, an alliance of warlords defeated President Siad Barre’s regime that supplied Somalia’s last central government and that was allied to the US. Subsequently, the victorious warlords turned on one another, resulting in clan feuds that destabilized the Somali state. In March 1994, this chaos engulfed US troops engaged in a humanitarian mission, resulting in the death and humiliation of several American soldiers in the so-called Black Hawk Disaster that led to the withdrawal of US troops and interests from Somalia. However, following the events of September 11, 2001, in which Islamic extremists attacked the Twin Towers in New York City and the ensuing launching of War on Terror, the United States became suspicious that Somalia was now a breeding ground for terrorist attacks against American interests in East Africa. This threat increased when Islamic Court Union (ICU) consolidated its power in southern Somalia after defeating US-allied warlords in June 2006. The ICU did bring a respite of law and peace for some six months, following fifteen years of warfare and chaos. But this was short-lived. Armed with economic and political support from Washington, neighboring Ethiopia invaded southern Somalia and occupied Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, under the pretext of the War on Terror. As many as 1 million people are reported to have been displaced and more than 10,000 were estimated to have been killed in Mogadishu.
Dynamics of Clanship in Somali Society
It is imperative to understand Somali history, society, and culture in order to evaluate U.S- Somali relations during the Cold War and War on Terror. Somalia is located in the Horn of Africa, adjacent to the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Peninsula. Historically, it was similar to numerous cultures in and around the region. For example, in ancient times, the Egyptians glorified Somalia as a “God’s Land” (the Land of Punt);1 Greek merchants who traveled on Red Sea called it the “Land of Blacks.” Arab neighbors used to refer to this land as Berberi. German scholars observed that the Samaal people, who give Somalia its name, inhabited and occupied the whole Horn of Africa as early as 100 A.D.2 This theory diverges from the popular myth that the Somali people (also known as Samaale or Samaal) originated from Arab roots.3 Indeed, historians and archeologists have revealed that Somalis share language, traditions, and culture with Eastern Cushitic genealogical groups.4 The Eastern Cushitic ethnic sub-family includes: the Oromo, most populated ethnic group in Ethiopia; the Afar people who inhabited between Ethiopia and Djibouti; the Beja tribes of Eastern Sudan; and the Boni tribes of Northeastern Kenya. In other words, modern Somalis are richly embedded in African culture.5
- 1 Jacquetta Hawkes, Pharaohs of Egypt (New York: American Heritage, 1965), 27.
- 2 Helen Chapin Metz, ed. Somalia: A Country Study (Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division Library of Congress, 1992), 5
- 3 Ali Ahmed, The Invention of Somalia (New Jersey: The Red Sea Press, 1995), 5.
- 4 Lee Cassanelli, The Shaping of Somali Society: Reconstructing the History of a Pastoral People (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania , 1982), 23
- 5 B. Lynch & L. Robins, New Archaeological Evidence from North-West Kenya. (Cambridge University Press, 1979), 320.2
The four major tribes of Somali lineage are nomadic and pastoral: Dir, Darood, Isaaq, and Hawiye. These nomad tribes constitute around 70 percent of the Somali population. The two smaller agricultural tribes – Digil and Rahanweyn – make up only 20 percent, while 10 percent of the population is comprised of coastal dwellers whose economy is based on fishing and farming. It is imperative to understand the role and history of clan politics and how it developed over the centuries to shape the modern government in Somalia. Traditionally, nomadic society mastered the art of forming alliances to protect the interests of kingship and ensure water and grazing land. Rainfall, in particular, is very critical to the life of pastoral communities. It is the main factor that forces them to compete with other tribes and to move from one inhospitable place to another. Although they expect two rainy seasons, some localities never see one drop of rain and experience severe droughts, costing nomads most of their livestock. In the 20th century, there were six harsh droughts across several regions of Somalia that lasted more than two years and produced famine.6
Tribal elders play an important role in the process of securing water. They make the final decisions in waging war and making peace with other neighboring tribes and relocating clan-families to new territories.7 Tribal elders sit on the council of leadership that administers most clan affairs, down to relatively small matters, like marriage arrangements within the clan-family. The relationship between different tribes always depends on how tribal elders manage conflicts and enforce previous agreements. However, an agreement might not last long. Therefore, it is the role of elders to find some sort of resolution to crises before things get out of hand and an endless cycle of revenge ensues. It must be said that these tumultuous situations and conflicts are positive in that they cement together clan-families against the threat presented by other tribes. This is necessary, as with political circumstances shifting continuously, it is hard to predict when another skirmish or war might take place. Yet, insecurity and suspicion within the clan remains high where negotiation and conflict resolution are not possible. In his book, Lee V. Cassanelli summarizes Somali clan politics by translating Somali proverb:
I and my clan against the world
I and my brother against the clan
I against my brother8
- 6 I. M. Lewis, Brief descriptions of the major Somali drought in the 20th Century, including that of 1973 -75, can found in Abaar: The Somali Drought. (London, 1975) pp. 1-2, 11-14.
- 7 While anthropologists might use tribe and clan in different terms, in Somali language, both (clan-family and tribe) mean the same.
- 8 Cassanelli, 21
European Colonial Rule
Over the centuries, the Somali people have demonstrated, as part of their tradition, a vigorous independence and unwillingness to surrender to a single political authority. Clan leaders never quite had the authority to enforce rules on all people; rather, their role was to remind people of the importance of strong clan consciousness, stressing ancestral pride, as the clan has been the integral part to their survival and existence since ancient times.
It is important to discuss the reaction of Somali nomadic society to the European-introduced modern Somali state. A clash of cultures invariably resulted from different conceptions of law as it relates to the person. The European concept sees the state as responsible for individual rights; inherently, it does not recognize the nomadic system of justice, based on collective responsibility. Over the centuries, the Somali coastal area has entertained various outside rulers, including the Omanis, the Zanzibaris, the Sharifs of Mukha in present day Yemen, and the Ottoman Turks. One thing these rulers had in common was that they did not disturb the nomadic lifestyle or interfere in their clan-family politics, because they knew Somalis were used to being ungoverned and therefore suspicious of foreigners. However, everything changed when the Somali Peninsula and East Africa were dragged out of relative isolation into world politics. This was only the start of the imperial epoch. In 1885, rival European powers – Great Britain, France, and Italy – divided amongst themselves land populated by the Somali ethnic group in the Horn of Africa.9 This territory was essentially ruled by clans until Great Britain took the northern territory near the Red Sea, close to its other colonies in Aden; while the least-experienced European colonies, Italy, was granted Southern Somaliland. The French took hold of what is today known as Djibouti, a tiny nation on Red Sea. Ethiopia also grabbed a chunk of Somali land called the Ogaden (see Figure 1 & 2).
- 9 Scott Peterson, Me Against my Brother: At War in Somalia, Sudan, and Rwanda (London: Routledge, 2000), 11
- 10 World Atlas. Retrieved April 20 2009, from http:// www.world-atlas.us/africa-map.gif
- 11 US Politics. Retrieved April 21 2009, from http://www.uspolitics.about.com
- 12 Cassanelli, 148 13 Abdi Sheik-Abdi, Somali Nationalism: Its Origin and Future. (England: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 658
The British and Italians had different strategies and interests in Somalia. Britain was interested in Northern Somalia, mainly as source of livestock for its colony in Aden,12 its principal supply route to Indian Ocean through the Suez Canal. British occupied Aden in 1839. Italians, on the other hand, wanted crops in the form of plantation agriculture: bananas, sugarcane, and citrus fruits. As soon as the British colonial government started asserting its authority over Somalia at the turn of the century, resistance took shape under the leadership of Somali nationalist Sayyid Mohammed Abdille Hasan: known to the British as “the Mad Mullah”.13 His Islamic resistance movement sought to end European rule and Ethiopian incursion in Somali territories. He used both religion and nationalism to advance his cause and successfully united Northern Somali tribes against the foreigners until his death in 1920. The use of force by British never produced a better outcome, but Sayyid Mohammed won many followers, especially among his own clan. He dared to suggest the possibility of a free and united Somalia. While British and Italian colonies were vying for control of the Somali Peninsula during the World War II, Somalis continued to mistrust and undermine the authority of their colonial rulers. As a result, the first modern Somali political group was formed in 1943. The Somali Youth League (SYL) articulated the need for national unity and, by extension, discouraged division and feuding between clan-families. This new ideology worked; the SYL helped Somalis realize that the only way to succeed and overcome colonial occupation was to unite against it.14 Against a common rival, a national consciousness was beginning to form. The political pressure also helped to improve lives: colonial rulers took steps for economic development, better education, and healthcare for growing urban communities. The SYL’s main focus, of course, was to end colonial rule and liberate the nation from foreign influence and domination. This did not happen overnight; however, the organization succeeded well in easing ill-feelings between tribes and compromising the clan system. The creation of a Somali state in 1960 could not have happened without this foundation.15
- 14 M. I. Egal, Somalia: Nomadic Individualism and the Rule of Law (Oxford University Press, Jul., 1968), 220
- 15 B. Braine, Storm Clouds over the Horn of Africa. International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs, Oct., 1958), 437
U.S. STRATEGIC INTEREST IN SOMALIA DURING THE COLD WAR ERA
The U.S. and Soviet Union in Somalia
U.S involvement in Africa was limited before World War II, with the exception of a few commercial treaties signed with selected countries in West Africa. Generally speaking, Washington was not interested in African affairs and voiced no real objection to European domination of the continent. However, there was some attention to Africa when, on January 18, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson offered his famous Fourteen Points declaration to a Joint Session of Congress in which he spoke about the principle of self-determination and governance.16 At that time, President Wilson wanted to counter the German threat which had changed the American attitude toward European Colonies. His stance had obvious implications for the millions of Africans subjected to foreign rule.
- 16 Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties (New York: HarperCollins,1991), 429
- 17 Ibid., 21
The Atlantic Charter, signed in 1941 by President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was another initiative to promote world peace by compromising imperialism. Both leaders recognized the importance of colonial people’s rights to self-determination and self-governance. 17 After World War II, the Soviet Union entered world political affairs in opposing Western domination and imperialism. As a result, the Western bloc became still more proactive in promoting democracy in the former colonial countries.
World War II’s end marked the beginning of de-colonization in Somalia in earnest. The process was not always perfect. Upon Somali independence in 1960, British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland united under one flag, yet colonial boundaries granted Ethiopia, Kenya, and France control over territories in which ethnic Somalis make up the majority of the general population. While these three countries remained allies of the United States, the U.S did not want to sever relations with Somalia because of the Soviet threat and strategic importance of Africa’s Horn region. As a result, the U.S promised financial and military aid to Somalia; however, the Soviet-led Eastern bloc also offered a similar deal in pursuit of its geographic advantages. Thus, Somalia became a prize during the Cold War; even President Kennedy recognized this development and met with Somali Prime Minister Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke in 1962. However, the Soviet Union ultimately offered what Somalia wanted most: more military hardware (the Russian military aid agreement of 1963) to protect the Somali population in Kenya and Ethiopia.18 On October 21, 1969, the armed forces, led by General Siad Barre, overthrew the civilian regime (former democratically elected leader Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke was assassinated by one of his own security guards during his visit in the drought-stricken area of the Las-Anod Disrtict, in the northern part of Somalia). Quickly, the usurping government adopted scientific socialism, nationalized all major private corporations, prohibited political parties, and shut down the parliament. U.S influence in Somalia apparently ended as Somalia and the Soviet signed a prestigious treaty of friendship.
On November 1, 1969, General Siad Barre established the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC). The organization announced its intention to fight and abolish tribalism and nepotism, major obstacles to progress and growth in the nine years of civilian, democratic government. The nation was in perpetual financial crisis and overly dependent on foreign assistance to meet its operating budget. A majority of Somali people welcomed the new military regime’s promise to clean up the sort of corruption that had been tolerated in the previous administration. Popular acceptance helped facilitate Barre’s initiatives like “Scientific Socialism” and the battle against tribalism, thought to be the true cancer of Somali society. Indeed, an official government slogan stated, “Tribalism divides where Socialism unites.”19
- 18 I. M. Lewis, Modern History of Somalia (London: Westview Press 1988), 209
- 19 I. M. Lewis, Modern History of Somalia (London: Westview Press 1988), 209
- 20 Metz, 119
The new government won the hearts and minds of the people by promoting a new self-reliance and self-supporting mentality. This helped to encourage a national, rather than clan, consciousness, for it lessened dependence on traditional clan lineage for survival. The main dream for every Somali was to be unified, including those living under Ethiopian and Kenyan rule. Over the first eight years of the Barre regime, the Soviet-Somali relationship grew into a significant military alliance. The two countries signed an agreement that brought Soviet military capabilities to Somalia. Numerous, sophisticated Russian weapon systems appeared, including MiG-21 jet fighters, T-54 tanks, and SAM-2 missile defense system.20 In return, the Soviets were allowed a base at the port of Berbara port, near the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. From this strategic location, they could counter United States military movement in the Middle East and North Africa and control trade. A more sinister aspect of the agreement saw the Soviet Union’s KGB training Somalia’s own secret police organization, the National Security Services (NSS), which could detain people indefinitely for any manufactured allegation.21The ambition of a greater, stronger Somalia come to fruition when Siad Barre invaded Ethiopia to liberate the ethnic-Somali Ogaden region in 1977. Ironically, the 1977-8 Somalia-Ethiopian War, enabled by Soviet support, was the severing point in the friendship between the Cold War nations. The Soviets elected to support Ethiopia against the nationalistic plans of its audacious neighbors. The Somali National Army lost the war when a full Eastern bloc (comprised of Cuba, East Germany, Libya, South Yemen, the Soviet Union army) attached themselves to the Ethiopian cause. Of course, Somalia was not doomed to float out at sea. In a polarized world, a Soviet enemy was automatically the United States’ friend. Here, Washington found an opportunity to normalize relations with Mogadishu. It offered military equipment to Somalia in order to counterbalance Soviet and Cuban support for Ethiopia. Somalia, built by Soviet aid, joined the Western camp in 1978, thus verifying the old cliche’ that there are “no permanent friends nor permanent enemies.”
- 21 Metz, 188
During the Cold War, the United States had a definite history in its African Enterprise of supporting ruthless dictators, who committed atrocities and violate the fundamental human rights of their own citizens. It was only required that these thugs somehow suit American interests. This policy has long compromised key principles of the Constitution: due process of law, respect for individual freedom and human rights, free and fair democratic elections, and a free market economy. Yet such opportunism remains a fixture of American foreign policy. Somalia fits the trend. Despite Siad Barre’s poor human rights records and corrupt government, the United States provided him with the economic aid to sustain his government and military aid to protect Somalia from Ethiopia’s hostile Marxist regime. Here, one of many American-Soviet proxy wars was waged where mutually assured destruction prevented a direct clash. Like Zaire’s notorious Mobutu Sese Seko, Barre benefited handsomely from America’s support and blind eye (see Figure 3). His regime survived the 80s, receiving grants and flexible loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), and food aid through USAID22, which was distributed amongst camps and displaced communities, as a result of a refugee flood from war-torn Ogeden region of Eastern Ethiopia. In return, the United States received its strategic naval base at Berbera.
- 22 Graham Hancock, Lord of Poverty: The Freewheeling Lifestyles, Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the Multibillion Dollar Aid Business. (London: Macmillan London Ltd., 1989), 24
Strategically speaking, this was a win-win situation between the two allies. However, Barre’s gloomy shadow lingered over American integrity. Here was an illegal dictator who neither tolerated political opposition nor so much as attempted to compromise in crafting solutions acceptable in all parties. Rather, he preferred to act as a thug, using force to eliminate any clan-family sympathizing with the opposition. His military forces committed unnecessary atrocities in central Somalia in particular, where they burnt villages, slaughtered thousands of innocent people, and raped women. Barre was highly antithetical to what the United States was supposedly pursuing. It is no wonder that, in mid 80s, a rising opposition movement demanded fair representation in the government. When Barre ignored this element, the opposition armed itself as the insurgent Somali National Movement (SNM), its aim simply to overthrow the Barre regime.23
- 23 Ahmed I. Samatar, The Somali Challenge: From Catastrophe to Renewal? (London: Lynne Rienner, 1994), 118
The SNM’s guerrilla army briefly seized two major cities in Northern Somalia – Hargeisa and Buro – in 1988. Barre and his superior American weapons reacted by emphatically crushing the SNM movement. He essentially leveled the rebel cities.24 Many civilians died in the crossfire; thousands more fled their homes for the countryside, where water and shelter were short.
- 24 Anna Simons, Somalia and the Dissolution of the Nation-State (American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 96, No. 4, Dec., 1994), 823
- 25 Scott Peterson, Me Against my Brother: At War in Somalia, Sudan, and Rwanda (London: Routledge, 2000), 15
- 26 Samatar, 121
When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, so too did the polarization of the world. The United States no longer had any real need for Somalia. It was now convenient to withdraw the support that had long enabled Barre’s rule and the illegalities that characterized it. When the United States suspended all financial aid to the Barre’s regime, his security apparatus swiftly collapsed. Sensing the regime’s vulnerability, rebel forces – taking the form of the United Somali Congress (USC) – led by Mohamed Farah Aideed stormed Mogadishu. Barre fled the capital in January, 1991.25 With the shared enemy eliminated, so too did any reason for the resistance movement to be unified. The same warlords who brought down the dictator continued to fight among themselves for power and control; thus regional, clan politics returned to Somalia at the worst possible time.26
The United States neglected its former Cold War ally until the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Now, embroiled in another global conflict, the United States found new strategic interest in Somalia and the Horn of Africa. This time, aid was offered to Somali warlords and former Somali rival, Ethiopia, to fight America’s proxy war. President George Bush announced that Ethiopia could serve as an important strategic ally against international terror networking. Therefore, in 2005, he oversaw a $450 million donation in food aid, engineered by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The Rise of Warlord Phenomenon in Somalia
The warlord phenomenon started soon after the collapse of the central government in Somalia in 1991. This was the era of the United Somali Congress (USC) rebel movement, characterized by much unfortunate chaos and violence. When USC leadership (predominately from the Hawiye tribe) could not reconcile its political differences, it descended into infighting which took the form of outright war, given that the USC was, in fact, a tribal militia at heart. This struggle had two sides: one side was loyal to self-appointed president Ali Mahdi Mohammed and the other side to General Mohamed Farah Aideed. For a year the power struggle afflicted the Somali people with loss of lives and property. The two men’s quarrel became everyone’s problem. Too often, this is the case in modern-day Somalia. Neither leader could claim a decisive victory or take control of government institutions. Consequently, peace and security in the nation’s capital were threatened.
These leaders were entrapped in Somali tradition. They exploited that tradition while bearing the guise of modern diplomacy and tact. They effectively turned the struggle for control of the USC into a fight for clan supremacy. The combatants recruited fighters from their own clan-families and committed themselves to clan, rather than Somali nation interests.
Aideed and Mahdi were vying for presidency of the entire nation. Although their collaboration had already toppled the Siad Barre regime, they did not understand that compromise worked. Now they had worked together to defeat a dictatorship: each settled to become a local political leader of his respective clan-family in the hope he would thereby control government institutions for the benefit of his own sector of the Somali people. Interestingly, the two “candidates” were members of the same Hawiye tribe of Mogadishu and central Somalia. Aideed belonged to Habar-Gidir sub-clan family, while Mr. Mahdi was a member of the Abgal sub-clan. Thus, General Aideed and Mr. Mahdi subdivided Hawiye tribe into two sub clans over which they presided as warlords. This development marked a “slippery slope” which was incompatible with the modern nation-state. Hence, “Warlordism” became an accepted part of Somali political culture. With so much threat from other clans, every major clan-family had to grow its military leaders and militias in order to protect itself. After all, the government itself was infested with warlords. So there was little protection – let alone examples of good state governance – coming from the Somali State Capital.
In summary, while clan elders and chiefs were still responsible for clan family affairs in villages, warlords were the players upon the national stage. They kept away from clan business which might create conflicts with traditional elders and chiefs. The warlords concerned themselves with warfare; they knew no other way of getting things done. In effect, they were – and still are – Somalia’s nightmare, an unending plague.
U.S. Support for Somali Warlords
The United States reevaluated its foreign policy following the Soviet collapse and the subsequent end of the Cold War. Somalia marked one of the changes. Since there was no longer significant strategic importance to the Horn region of Africa, the U.S. ended all economic and military aid to Siad Barre’s regime, leaving him with no leg to stand on. Encouraged, insurgents rose to armed struggle against the demoralized and poorly equipped national army. Suddenly, Barre’s government resembled a pushover. It quickly ceased to existed, but the transition was less than ideal. Somalia went from one to many rulers; already in battle mode, warlords took to fighting each other where there was no Barre to unite against. Thus, anarchy replaced law and order. Somali went back to traditional clan warfare. This sort of chaos was part of the old, nomadic culture but hardly compatible with the requirements of a modern nation state. The clan-family system and its culture of violence took its toll. Major clan-families aligned themselves behind warlords. All seeking protection of their own interests and territories, they wound up infringing heavily upon each other, fueling a prolonged civil war in the country. Countless innocent people lost their lives because of the fighting. More severe, however, was the starvation it left in its wake. 1992 saw a historic famine. A full quarter of Somalia’s nine-million people experienced malnourishment. Here, conscience got the better of the United States and international community. The United Nations took up a humanitarian intervention geared at getting help to starving people in the countryside. This was easier said than done. It quickly became apparent that the United States could not aid Somalia without embroiling itself in the civil war. Warlords were blocking United Nations’ aid shipments from reaching people in need. President George H. W. Bush’s administration introduced a new initiative called “Operation Restore Hope” before it left office in late 1992. This effort saw the United States partner with United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali in the deployment of 30,000-strong peacekeeping force to oversee safe and effective delivery of humanitarian food to the starving people. President Bush went to the town of Baida, which the media had dubbed “City of Death,” to witness what the effort was accomplishing – and exactly what it was up against.
Bill Clinton replaced George H.W. Bush in office in 1993. He continued, and in fact expanded, his predecessor’s involvement in Somalia. Now the humanitarian mission started to turn into a political and nation-building effort.27. However, in pursuit of the best government, U.N. and U.S. officials actually helped to exacerbate strife by pitting one warlord against another. One prime example was when Belgian peacekeepers enabled warlord Mohamed Said Morgan to capture the southern Somali town of Kismayo from General Mohamed Farah Aideed’s ally, Mohamed Omar Jess.28 This action infuriated Aideed and his followers (see Figure 4). Many violent protests ensued against U.N. humanitarian efforts, involving road bombs and skirmishes with Pakistani peacekeepers.
- 27 Craig Unger, The Fall of the House of Bush: House of Bush, House of Saud. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007), 176
- 28 Peterson, 65
- 29 Aideed’s photo was retrieved from http//www.hobyo.net
Here, U.S. policy completed its transformation from a humanitarian to military mission and ordered the arrest of General Aideed. This mistake shows the extent to which the United States failed to understand the culture and the clan politics of this nomadic nation. Admittedly, Aideed was a ruthless thug and a poor model for humanity; yet when U.S. and U.N coalition started to hunt him down, he became an automatic hero for Somalis because of his wiliness to stand up to the world’s remaining superpower. As mentioned before, there has always been conflict among tribes; however, as soon as a foreign threat manifests itself, old clan rivalries give way to unity against the common threat. The clans, after all, are separate pieces of one shared, regional culture; here is where they become Somali.
Aideed mobilized Somalia’s clans, including rivals, against the foreigners. In response, the United States and United Nations escalated the conflict. This led to eighteen American servicemen losing their lives and the infamous shooting down of two Black Hawk helicopters.30 The nation-building effort never succeeded because of misunderstanding of Somali culture and misguided foreign policy based on unnecessary use of force rather than political resolution. The war became an embarrassment to the Clinton administration especially, particularly when images surfaced of an American serviceman being dragged through the street of Mogadishu. This was about enough. President Clinton admitted the failed U.S. policy toward Somalia and announced that he was bringing forces home.31 In 1994, U.S. and international forces left Somalia, having been defeated by militias a few-hundred strong.
- 30 Mark Bowden, Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War. (New York: Penguin, 2000), 90
- 31 Richard Clarke, Your Government Failed You: Breaking the Cycle of National Security Disasters. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008), 35
Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin-Laden missed no time in claiming responsibility for the U.S. defeat in Somalia. The Saudi terrorist leader said that he had provided Somali militants with the sophisticated air-missiles that had shot down the two Black Hawk helicopters.
He insisted that U.S. Army had no backbone to fight and die in such wars.32. He threatened to continue his own struggle until United States interests all over the world were in ruins. Thus, the new threat of Islamic radicalism effectively replaced fifty years of Cold War. This, however, was a different kind of enemy.
Somalia always has been a strategic location, but the U.S. effectively neglected it between Clinton’s 1994 pullout and the advent of the War on Terrorism in 2001. Washington feared the impact of terrorism growing all around the world,33 particularly in failed states such as Somalia and Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda threatened more than once that they would bring their jihad against the U.S. and its regional ally, Ethiopia. In response, Washington committed another foreign policy blunder. As allies, it solicited none other than the Somali warlords who had effectively feudalized and starved the country. Thus, against its policy and ideals, the United States effectively legitimized their reign of terror. In the process of continued feuding for control of territories, warlords established two semi-autonomous governments: Somaliland in the northwest and Puntland in the northeast of Somalia. Southern Somalia, including Mogadishu and Kismayo, were still lawless – ravaged by clan warfare and mired in destruction and starvation.34 American’s primary goal was to partner any allies in support of the War on Terrorism in the Horn region.